9 months into our Australia trip, it is safe to say we have had some pretty amazing experiences, BUT this past week we can jointly say has been our favourite… We both love being in the ocean, and getting up close and personal with some of its most incredible creatures has been something on our bucket list.
As our usual unorganised selves, we wanted to go snorkelling with whale sharks but managed to miss the season by a few weeks. Instead of whale sharks, the season was now humpback whales migrating from Antarctica, with around 40,000 passing through Western Australia’s Ningaloo Reef. Swimming with humpbacks is something we had never considered, 2016 was the first year in WA that it was actually allowed and we were lucky enough to be some of the first people to be able to do it!
As we booked our humpback whale snorkelling trip, we were told there was a small possibility of finding a whale shark and manta rays which is ultimately what we wanted to see, but the chances where unlikely.
We only booked the day before the trip and luckily there were still spaces, so we were pretty excited but a little bit nervous as I’m sure anyone would be at the thought of getting in the water with a 13m long whale!
Saturday arrived, today was the day! Full of excitement and nerves, we rushed to get ourselves ready for the day ahead of us (as usual we didn’t leave ourselves quite enough time). In the rush, I forgot one of the most important things – sea sickness tablets. SHIT. Unfortunately, my stomach doesn’t love being out at sea quite as much as I do… My day was ruined, I knew it! Why is it always the most important things we forget, never the spare pen that you will never need but pack anyway just in case or a replacement hair tie if one breaks – who actually needs those? Feeling sick is one of the worst things, and puts a downer on everything so I was pretty pissed off at myself!
Despite that, we were still excited! A little dinghy arrived at the dock to transfer the group onto our boat for the day. There were only 11 people in our group which was amazing. Don’t you just hate it when you go on excursions that are ridiculously overpriced only to be crammed in with 150 other people?! It made the whole day so much more enjoyable, the guides actually knew your name and would take the time to chat to you rather than just seeing you as another $$ sign.
Our first snorkel was pretty close to land still, so the water was calm and clear! This was more to test equipment and see everyone’s ability than to spot any marine life but we did see a few sting rays, amongst hundreds of beautifully coloured fish! It’s amazing in Exmouth and Coral Bay, you can literally swim 10m from the beach and be in the middle of the coral reef!
After drying off and stuffing ourselvesfull of cake and hot milo (Australian version of hot chocolate but more like Horlicks),
we headed further out into the Indian Ocean. The water was rough, and I was praying my seasickness would hold of. It wasn’t long before we started spotting humpbacks. There are very strict regulations regarding swimming with them – for example if it was a mother and her calf you could not swim with them unless the calf is 2/3 the size of the mother meaning it would be last year’s calf – so we would have to be patient for the spotter plane flying overhead to find an appropriate whale!
Whales were breaching, turtles where coming up for air, everyone was buzzing. When all of a sudden whale shark was being mentioned! No one was sure what was happening but still rushed and got geared up in the hope we were lucky (none had been seen in the last week).
We were lucky.
After about 10 minutes we were all in the water swimming alongside this 6.5 meter beauty! There was no time for nerves to kick in, just adrenaline, it was one of the most amazing experiences of our lives. The whale shark wasn’t bothered by us at all, just gracefully swum – thankfully with the current otherwise we wouldn’t have lasted more than a few minutes. We were swimming along with him for about 5 minutes, keeping about 15m distance. Wow. We had the action camera and I could see the whale shark perfectly on the screen, not only had we been so lucky to see one but we had captured the whole thing. Getting back on the boat was a struggle, the water was so rough and the waves were picking the boat up and throwing it back down, but it was so worth it!
Sadly, the water was now so rough it would have been dangerous for us to go in should we find a humpback so we headed North in the hope to find some calmer waters. All along the way we continued to see the humpbacks in the distance, which is still an incredible site. The waters didn’t get calmer, so it was decided we would go back closer to land have lunch and snorkel the reefs there. Everyone was a bit disappointed that we wouldn’t be in the water with the humpbacks, but in those situations safety has to come first.
After lunch, still full to the brim with food we took the easy option and drift snorkelled over the reef and got picked up by the boat. We came across a sting ray which would have been about the same size as the one that killed Steve Irwin which was pretty scary to hear whilst you are swimming 2 meters away from it!!! Then headed back to land.
Despite not being able to swim with the humpbacks, the whale shark made the whole day worthwhile. As well as being so lucky to see that, Ningaloo Whale Sharks have a policy saying if you don’t get to swim with the animals on the tour you can go on another tour for free or get a $200 voucher that lasts up to 3 years. Because we were on a humpback tour not a whale shark tour, this meant we were entitled to this which was a huge shock! Most companies would tell you tough luck. We would highly recommend Ningaloo Whale Sharks not only for that perk, but also because the staff were great too!
It turned out in the end the day was not ruined. I must have done something right and impressed someone as my prayers were answered – I had no seasickness!
What a day, something we will remember for the rest of our lives. And to top it off, the rest of the week will be spent working with dolphins!